As my bus struggled getting through the traffic, I at one point decided to just leave the bus and walk. A few streets on, I caught a taxi with a driver who knew his job well. He was a master at taking routes that eventually took me to the old city of Panama. In the end, he tried to convince me that it was too dangerous to walk around the old town, and offered to drive me around. I refused, and I started walking the streets of the Casco Antiguo, or old city, of Panama. Originally, Panama City was founded a few kilometres east of here in the 16th century, but after it was destroyed, a new settlement was established here, on a small peninsula jotting out into the sea. Its unique character and special blend of architectural styles have turned it into a world heritage site.
In recent years, the Casco Viejo, as it is also called, has been undergoing a facelift, which is still going on. Fortunately so: it is the oldest city on the Pacific coast of the Americas. Walking the sometimes narrow streets of the old district of Panama, you can read the history of the city by just looking at the houses. They come in very different shapes, sizes, and styles. Ramshackle wooden houses that remind of the Caribbean, luxurious mansions, houses with balconies with flowers, houses even relatively modern houses all stand side by side and tell a story of different influences and inhabitants over the centuries: Spanish, French, American - unique in the Americas. Inevitably, there are the squares so typical of countries where the Spanish set up shop, with white-washed churches, monumental and historical buildings like the Salón Bolívar where the famous liberator organized a get-together to establish a pan-American congress in 1826.
There is more: the metropolitan Cathedral, with entrances on three sides, other churches, some of which in state of decay, are testimony to the imported European religion as in all former Spanish colonies. Then there is the Bóvedas, vaults where prisoners used to be kept but transformed into a pleasant area to have a stroll with superb views over the coastline and the skyline of modern Panama City. It is here, at the very tip of the peninsula, that you find the monument to the workers and French engineers involved in the construction of that famous feature of Panama: the Panama Canal, as well as the French embassy. An attractive walkway brings you back towards the Casco Viejo. Apart from seeing the sights, just following your nose and strolling around is a great way to explore. The area is quite compact, getting lost is impossible. Just stand still, enjoy life passing by slowly, an old woman looking down from a balcony, an old american car gliding through the streets, people having a chat on the Plaza de la Independencia... There is enough to see and enjoy to keep you busy for a day.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Panama Old City (). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Panama Old City.
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